Whenever will the Owls cure their travel sickness?
Saturday evening’s 2-1 reversal at Birmingham City stretched Wednesday’s winless streak away from Hillsborough to nine matches in all competitions.
You have to go back to April 2 for the last time Carlos Carvalhal’s charges claimed maximum points on their travels.
If Wednesday are to stand any chance of gatecrashing the Championship play-off positions for the second year running, the team’s performances and results must improve on the road.
It felt like Groundhog Day at St Andrew’s as Wednesday dictated proceedings for long spells in the first half of the televised showdown. For all their neat, intricate approach play, the Owls had absolutely nothing to show for it.
After the restart, Birmingham were much improved and the visitors scored against the run of play with 14 minutes remaining thanks to substitute Gary Hooper, who raced on to Steven Fletcher’s deft back heel before firing a low right foot shot past Adam Legzdins.
Teams with automatic promotion aspirations see these matches out. They certainly don’t lose.
But Wednesday threw it away, conceding two soft goals in the final nine minutes.
Clayton Donaldson held his nerve to slot in an 81st-minute penalty after the striker had been impeded by Keiren Westwood.
In a pulsating finale, substitute Atdhe Nuhiu headed against the crossbar beforeLukas Jutkiewicz broke the Owls’ hearts, nodding home Jacques Maghoma’s super cross to condemn Carvalhal’s men to a third league defeat in eight outings.
THINGS STARTED SO WELL
As both managers admitted post-match, the Owls dominated the opening 25 to 30 minutes. Birmingham rode their luck as Wednesday’s slick, passing style repeatedly put them under the cosh.
Fernando Forestieri could, probably should, have scored after being sent clear by Fletcher only to be foiled in a one-on-one situation by the agility of Legzdins. Liam Palmer fizzed a low ball across the face of goal and Almen Abdi headed narrowly over after a fine cross by Adam Reach, who filled in admirably at left-back in the absence of the injured Daniel Pudil. There was just no cutting edge to Wednesday’s play.
Blues boss Gary Rowett said: “We just had a 20-minute period in the first-half when we really struggled to contain Sheffield Wednesday’s technical players in the middle of the pitch.
“When you play (Almen) Abdi just off the left and (Fernando) Forestieri dropping in there, there are a lot of bodies in there against our, at times, two players.”
After tweaking his formation, Rowett found a way to stem Wednesday’s flow and momentum. They gradually wrestled the initiative away from the visitors and could have been awarded a penalty after Owls old boy Maghoma, who was a lively figure, went down under a challenge by the returning Glenn Loovens.
Carvalhal claimed Wednesday created “five or six chances” but the reality is only two of their 11 shots were on target. Their opportunities dried up in the second half and it took a moment of brilliance from Fletcher to break the deadlock. The in-form forward initially lost his footing and slipped over while leading a counter-attack but he regained his poise and balance and improvised to devastating effect, back-heeling the ball into the path of Hooper, who slotted the ball under Legzdins to claim his third goal at this ground in 2016.
“We scored a good goal and the way we are playing is very good but we just didn’t get the luck,” said Carvalhal.
Hooper’s opener should have been enough. Wednesday should have had enough experience and quality to have got the job done.
But for the second away match running, Westwood was punished for a goalkeeping error. He sprinted off his line to close down Donaldson, who was bearing down on goal, but only succeeded in bringing him down. It was a stone-wall penalty and Donaldson made no mistake from 12 yards.
After Nuhiu, a transfer target for the Blues in the last window, hit the woodwork, Jutkiewicz made them pay 41 seconds later, heading in his first goal since May 2014 to complete the late fightback.
Carvalhal said: “Congratulations to Birmingham but it was a game where I remember five or six clear chances to us and I don’t remember even one time that Keiren did even one defence in the game - and we lose 2-1. In my opinion, the team that did more and more to win didn’t win the game.”
PLENTY FOR BOSS TO THINK ABOUT
Poor finishing and defensive lapses in concentration are costing the Owls time and time again away from home. After nearly 15 months at the helm, Carvalhal still looks no nearer to solving the puzzle.
The Championship’s ‘tinkerman’ made three changes to his backline over the weekend, albeit two were enforced with Sam Hutchinson banned and Pudil injured, but why make three other alterations in midfield and up front on the back of victories over Wigan Athletic and Bristol City?
Almen Abdi returned to the side but he again made little impact on the left flank. His talent is wasted out there. Given the club shelled out £4 million for Abdi over the summer, why not give him a long run in his favoured central position?
Eight matches into the new campaign and there is still no sign of a settled team or formation. It all feels a bit muddled and disjointed which is why the side remain so infuriatingly inconsistent.